Faculty Spotlight: Amanda Stathopoulos


Amanda Irini Blomberg Stathopoulos

1. Where were you born, and where did you study?

 I grew up on a small island outside Stockholm in Sweden. It is one of Europe's most orderly and socially progressive societies, and people are quite reserved and humble. I am half Greek and half Swedish and craved a switch, so in my twenties, I moved to Rome, Italy, despite having no connections there. This is where I spent a decade doing all my studies, from an undergraduate degree at Roma Tre University in political science to my master's at Sapienza University in development economics and a doctorate at the University of Trieste in transportation economics. Another move took me to Switzerland, working at the Transport and Mobility Laboratory at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in the French part of Switzerland. 

2. How long have you been at NU & briefly describe your research program.

 I started as an assistant professor at Northwestern in 2014 and earned tenure as an associate professor in 2021. I lead the Mobility and Behavior Lab, which is part of the transportation systems program. My research centers on transportation system decision-making, adoption of innovation, and impacts on society. A recent focus of my work is to analyze technological and social transformation in both mobility systems and society to better plan, design, and intervene in future mobility systems.

 3. What courses do you teach?

 I teach courses at all levels in the engineering school. In 2017 I developed a new undergraduate class called CEE201, “Engineering Possibilities: Decision science in the age of smart technologies” This is one of our department gateway classes with the aim of introducing students to the foundational principles of smart city technology and interventions. “Engineering Possibilities” attracts students from all over the university. For upper-undergraduate, master, and graduate students, I just started teaching CEE377 “Choice Modelling in Engineering.” This course covers behavioral modeling theories, design, and practice. Students work on independent projects and learn methods to conceptualize behavioral research, create an experimental design, and implement and find practical answers to choice modeling problems in various settings, including transportation, energy, water, consumer science, food preferences, residential location, and more.

 At the graduate level, I teach CEE480-1 “Travel Demand Analysis & Forecasting,” which is a core class in the transportation systems Ph.D. program. In this class, students learn theories of travel demand and transportation planning, along with practical tools and methods to model data and make decisions to improve transportation systems. This class involves projects with real data and coding of demand models to build empirical skills in model specification, coding, and interpretation so that students can lead projects and critically evaluate models.

 4. Did you always know you would become a professor? What attracted you to an academic career?

 There was no linear path or plan that led me to become a professor. I grew up in a household dominated by artists and was interested in psychology and social work as a future career. Starting out as a student, I became more interested in economic development and the social dynamics of how societies recover and grow after adverse events. Over time I became more and more intrigued by human decision-making and how to construct mathematical models to mimic how people and communities make decisions. I landed in the transportation field because this is an area where all this comes together: it has so many interesting decision-making problems, coupled with incredible social relevance in that transportation allows people to access jobs, housing, and opportunities for growth and socializing. My love for asking questions, constructing models, and analyzing impacts kept me anchored in transportation research. Over the year, I started feeling at home in the academic community where I could work with curious students and colleagues and where we were rewarded for asking hard questions and carving out our own independent paths as researchers.

 5. What is the most challenging part of your job?

 Being a professor is a balancing act. I would say for me, the most challenging part has been developing the skills and dedicating the time to writing grants to support my research program.

 6. What do you consider your most significant research finding or accomplishment thus far?

 The highlight was being awarded the National Science Foundation CAREER award for my work on Transformative Mobility Analysis, where I proposed to use the Mixed Methods Framework, that is, combining qualitative and quantitative methods to study the societal impact of evolving mobility technologies.

 7. Is there someone or something that has inspired you?

 My academic mentors have inspired me to find my own way in research and as a mentor and teacher. Edoardo Marcucci at Roma Tre encouraged me to present a paper at a conference as an undergraduate student, which led to my first (anxiously) happy exposure to an academic environment. Michel Bierlaire, who leads the transport and mobility lab in EPFL, inspired me with his incredible ability to connect with everyone in his group and use individualized mentoring suited to their experiences and personality. Joe Schofer, who recently retired as a professor in our department, has greatly inspired me as a scholar. His outstanding ability to lead students on a journey in the classroom, constantly weaving in updated teaching topics and continuously rethinking his teaching methods is a strong inspiration to me as a university instructor.

 On a more personal note, I always admired my mother for raising three kids while holding together a complicated life puzzle. While applying for tenure in the midst of raising two young kids, I often thought of her ability to stay centered, carry on, and focus on what is essential.

 8. What do you do for fun when you are not working?

 I have always loved exploring by foot, anything from nature hiking to rambling around a new city neighborhood. Reading is another constant companion, I love being absorbed into a novel, and am currently reading my way through Elizabeth Strout’s novels. My other great passion is cooking and trying out new recipes and restaurants. My next goal is to master a good vegetarian ramen soup.

 9. How do you explain what you do and why it is important to someone who isn’t a scientist or engineer?

 There are a number of radical mobility changes on the horizon. These are fueled by advances in electrification, automation, sharing, and digital platforms. Transforming mobility systems will impact how cities are designed, how people travel, and the ability of our society to satisfy crucial needs. There are a lot of concerns that transformative mobility will produce non-uniform impacts that are concentrated in wealthier areas and fail to benefit disadvantaged users.

We urgently need to study human behavior to understand how, where and by whom these systems are adopted and to predict distributional effects. I believe that the key to making sure that new mobility benefits society lies in understanding human beings and combining data and insights from quantitative and qualitative approaches. Integrating social science insights and data in passenger and logistics system models will help us understand key factors like how adoption behaviors are affected by diverse community beliefs or how certain policy choices can be coupled with unintended effects.

10. What are you watching right now? 

 I have belatedly started watching the Chicago-based show 'the bear,' which is a perfect late-night viewing filled with cookery drama and tension, family turmoil, and long jumpy shots of food being prepared very skillfully. It shows the mix of passion, grind, rivalry, and intensity that you find behind the scenes at many restaurants. 

I try to watch a film each week, and for the past few months, I have enjoyed revisiting many of Almodóvar's dramas full of complicated characters, navigating tangled lives in exquisite cinematography. Both of these allow one to immerse in a different environment and universe of characters.

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